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Professor Phil Cowen, from the University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, writes a response to the claims that magic mushrooms could offer a magic bullet for treatment-resistant depression.

Magic mushrooms

A recent small-scale study from Imperial College London suggests that psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms could offer new hope for severe depression

In the Lancet Psychiatry, Prof Phil Cowen, considers the full implications of this study and of using psilocybin in treating depression.

Read an excerpt here:

Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question
- Lewis Caroll

'To resolve the issue, Alice ate the mushroom; in more recent times, however, experimentation with psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms has been strongly discouraged. In the UK, in 2005, magic mushrooms were classified as a Class A substance, with then Home Office Minister Paul Goggins commenting: “Magic mushrooms are a powerful hallucinogen and can cause real harm, especially to vulnerable people and those with mental health problems”.

'In this context, Robin Carhart-Harris and colleagues deserve much praise for effectively and safely completing an important clinical investigation into the effect of psilocybin on treatment-resistant depression, in the face of many regulatory and practical hurdles. Findings from their study—an uncontrolled trial in which 12 patients were given two doses of psilocybin 7 days apart, reported inThe Lancet Psychiatry—support the feasibility and safety of this protocol, with preliminary efficacy data suggesting an antidepressant effect. Of course, great thanks are due to the participants; their description of the lived experience of the study and the aspects they found most beneficial will, when published, add substantially to assessment of the intervention.'

Read the full article in Lancet Psychiatry online: 'Altered states: psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression'.

Read more about the Imperial experiment on BBC online: 'Magic mushrooms 'promising in depression''.